Monthly Archives: March 2012

lazy brunch – 3.31.12 – bacon, mushrooms, and asparagus (with an egg)

I woke up at 5:30 this morning.

It’s Saturday.

I was not happy.

Unable to go back to sleep, I moped around for a little while…read another chapter in an almost-700-page novel for book club…

So good.
(image from indiebound.com)

…blogged about steak ‘n’ taters and my quite unexpected and probably undeserved Liebster Award…played around on Facebook…

…and then, at 10:30, I was finally drowsy enough to go back to sleep (right when Micah was awake enough to get out of bed). I did doze back off for a late-morning nap around 11:00…

…and I didn’t wake up again until after 1:00.

Oops.

So when I call this meal “lazy brunch,” I mean lazy in the loafingest sense of the word, because that’s the kind of day it’s been.

This is one of those gorgeous dishes that takes pretty much no time to put together, and besides salt and pepper, it’s only got four ingredients, but man, is it amazing.

Bacon + eggs + veggies = brunch heaven.

You also don’t need much time or equipment for this lazy brunch, because it’s made one fast-cooking component at a time in a single skillet. It seems too simple to be good, but don’t let that fool you. This stuff’s so amazing, you’ll want to go ahead and double the recipe.

What’s in it:

  • about 3 ounces, or 4 slices, bacon (we used Micah’s home-cured hog jowl guanciale)
  • 1/2 pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1-inch sticks
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms (we used shiitakes), cut into slivers
  • 2 eggs
  • salt and pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to about 170-200°F and put two oven-proof bowls in to warm up.
  • Put your sliced bacon in a skillet and cook it on medium heat until it’s brown and crispy. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
  • You can pour off some of the bacon grease if you want (we didn’t, ’cause we love bacon).
  • Add the asparagus and mushrooms. Toss ’em around in the bacon fat and cook for about 5-10 minutes, or until the asparagus is crisp-tender and the mushrooms have softened.
  • Season the asparagus and mushrooms with a little salt and pepper. (They probably won’t need much salt since your bacon grease will already be salty, but I do like a good dash of freshly ground pepper.)
  • Divide the asparagus-and-mushroom mixture between your two oven-proof bowls. Stick ’em back in the oven to keep warm.
  • Crack the eggs into the skillet and cook them sunny-side-up until the whites are firm. (Or, cook them a little longer if you like your yolks done, which we don’t. :)) Sprinkle the eggs with a little bit of salt and pepper.
  • Get your bowls of veggies out of the oven. Top each bowl with an egg. Crumble the bacon over the top.
  • It’s done! Enjoy!

When you’re ready to eat, go ahead and crack those runny yolks, break up the whites, and stir the eggy goodness all around into your veggies and bacon. Like this:

Oh, boy...

Springy fresh asparagus, earthy mushrooms, salty-crispy bacon, gooey eggs…brunch magic. If you really want to kick this up a notch, serve it over some grits with a buttermilk biscuit on the side for a hearty, stick-to-your ribs brunch feast.

Gratuitous additional photo, just to make you drool on your keyboard a little bit more.

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Liebster!

So, I’m new at this whole blogging thing, and I didn’t know until recently that one of the cool things bloggers like to do is nominate other bloggers for awesome awards. And I just got picked for a Liebster Award by the Ranting Chef (whose blog rocks the socks off of this one, let me tell you!).

Thank you, Ranting Chef! Your blog is only one of my favorites, so let me nominate some more:

  1. coolcookstyle: everything this woman cooks makes me want to lick my computer screen
  2. FrugalFeeding: because this guy has simple, delicious food down to an art form
  3. trialsinfood: beautiful blog, and she even makes her own chocolates!
  4. Assia’s Kaleidoscope: Assia shares my love of fruits and veggies, and her photography is gorgeous
  5. Snotting black: great food + great pictures + funny as hell

It was hard to just choose five, but if you like my blog, you’ll surely like all of these even more. 🙂

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date night dinner – 3.30.12 – steak ‘n’ taters

The weather here in Georgia has been unseasonably warm lately.

It’s been dang hot! Like, mid-80s in early March hot. Shorts and flip-flops hot. Summer hot. (Except that now, summer will probably be keep-your-babies-and-elderly-indoors-for-the-love-of-God hot.)

Hot weather makes me want to do several things:

  • Shave my legs (which Micah can tell you I’m not so diligent about in the winter)
  • Sip mojitos (but, of course, we have no rum or mint or limes in the house…)
  • Eat dinner outside (because the AC is on in here, and that makes me cold!)

Hot weather also makes Micah want to do several things:

  • Turn on the AC and complain about how hot it is
  • Drink beer (though he’s pretty good at that one year-round)
  • GRILL

Yep. I married a sweet, sensitive musician type, but he’s definitely a manly man at heart. When we started discussing what protein from the freezer we might want to defrost for date night, his first statement+question was: “I wanna grill something. Steak or pork chops?”

I let him pick, and he chose the steaks. Two big, beautiful 1-pound T-bone steaks from our pals at Moonshine Meats. They’d been in the freezer for a little while because we generally don’t eat steak very often, so when several packs of them come in our CSA box, it usually takes us a few months to get through them all.

These steaks were real purty. Nice T-bone shape, intense blood-red color, thick strip of white fat around the edges (which I don’t eat, but it does seem to make the surrounding meat nice and juicy, so I don’t usually trim it until after it’s cooked).

Then there was the smell. I haven’t gone around sniffing raw beef all my life, and honestly, I never noticed my ground chuck or rib-eye ever having much of a odor (which I guess I’ve always taken as a good sign). But somehow, all the beef and pork that we get from Moonshine Meats has this intoxicatingly gorgeous aroma. It smells…well, meaty. A touch grassy, too, like you can smell the farm where that cow or pig lazily grazed before becoming your dinner. And when you eat this stuff, that meaty, grassy, farmy scent becomes a meaty, grassy, farmy taste, too. It’s a magical experience.

I didn’t mean for this blog post to be an unpaid advertisement for Moonshine Meats, but it’s hard not to gush.

Anyway, that mouth-watering steak scent burst from the vacuum-sealed package as soon as Micah slit it open last night.

And then…

We checked the hourly forecast, and it called for rain.

Not grilling weather.

Poor Micah.

Undaunted, he decided to bring the party inside and pan-sear those shapely T-bones in a big cast-iron skillet.

(If you ever do this, by the way, please flip on the vent hood above your stove, turn on your ceiling fans, and open all your windows and exterior doors before those steaks hit the smoking-hot pan. Because those suckers are going to smoke. A lot. And while this magical Maillard reaction creates a satisfyingly crunchy, caramelized char on the outside of your steak, it also makes your house as hazy as the inside of a hookah den.)

Meanwhile, I whipped up a couple of sides: mashed potatoes (because steak ‘n’ taters is one of those classic combinations that’s hard to beat, and I had some milk and a bit of Gruyere that needed using), plus some balsamic-glazed carrots and Brussels sprouts (because even in a meat-and-potatoes meal, I like to enjoy some veggies, too).

A stick-to-your-ribs steak-'n'-taters feast.

You’ll see that, with the exception of salt and pepper, our recipes all call for five or fewer ingredients. No fancy cooking techniques, either. And no disasters! In fact, except for the lung-smothering smoke that filled our kitchen, this was one of the most stress-free date-night dinners we’ve cooked in a while.

What’s in it:

  • Steaks (adapted from Bobby Flay):
    • Two T-bone steaks
    • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
    • Salt and pepper
  • Taters:
    • 2 pounds potatoes
    • 2 cups milk
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • Shredded Gruyere (we only had 1 ounce, but would’ve added more if we’d had it)
    • Salt and pepper
  • Veggies (adapted from Epicurious.com):
    • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts
    • 1/2 pound carrots
    • 1/4 small red onion
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    • Salt and pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Start with the steaks: Remove your steaks from their packaging and let them warm up to room temperature while you are prepping the vegetables. Why? ‘Cause Bobby Flay says so.

* * * * *

  • Turn your attention to the taters: Cut your potatoes into small cubes. They don’t have to be beautiful since you’re going to mash them, but small, evenly-sized pieces will cook more quickly and evenly. (Also, I leave the peels on my taters because I like them.)
  • Dump the potatoes into a big-ish saucepan. Pour in the milk. If the liquid level is low, add water until it’s about even with the top layer of potatoes, and then add a good sprinkle of salt.
  • Heat this pan on a back burner on medium heat until it’s almost boiling. (Don’t let it boil unless you want to curdle your milk!) Reduce to a low simmer and let the potatoes cook while you’re working on everything else. (Ours were done in about 20-30 minutes.)

* * * * *

  • Now, start the veggies: Heat two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet on low heat for your veggies.
  • Slice your carrots and cut your Brussels sprouts. For a normal-sized Brussels sprout, this will probably be halved or quartered. Ours were crazy-huge end-of-season behemoths, so we cut them into eighths.
  • Finely chop your onion. Add it to the butter in the skillet and turn the heat up to medium.
  • When the onion is translucent, add the carrots and Brussels sprouts. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until they get some color on them.
  • Add 1/3 cup water to the skillet of veggies, cover, reduce to medium-low, and let cook for about 10 minutes.

* * * * *

  • Steak time! While the veggies cook, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in another large skillet on high heat. Pat the steaks dry and season them with plenty of salt and pepper on both sides.
  • Your skillet will start smoking. When it does, add the steaks and reduce the heat to medium-high. Sear for 3-4 minutes per side if you like your steaks medium rare like we do. (If you like your steak more done than this, move it to a 450ºF oven for a few more minutes afterwards. But I’m telling you, you’re missing out!)
  • Remove the finished steaks to a plate and cover with foil. They’ll rest for about 10 minutes while you finish up the taters and veggies.

* * * * *

  • Veggies: Remove the cover from your skillet of veggies, turn the heat back up to medium, and add the balsamic vinegar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has been absorbed and the vegetables look glazed and shiny. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Taters: Take the pot off the heat. Mash the taters in the milk with one of these:

'Cause I prefer my taters
smashed 'n' chunky.
(image from overstock.com)

  • Add two tablespoons butter and the shredded cheese to your mashed potatoes and stir until they’re all melted in. Add salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Put it all on a plate and eat! (We enjoyed all of this with a bottle of Chianti. Mmm.)

While my body is still fatigued from our school’s spring book fair, and while my lungs are still recovering from a pollen-filled week and our smoke-filled kitchen, my taste-buds and belly were completely pleased with this delicious meal.

One note about portions: this dinner procedure resulted in 2 giant steaks, 3-4 servings of veggies, and 6 good-sized heaps of mashed potatoes. So you may want to take that into account if you try this out–unless you like random leftover veggies as much as we do. 🙂

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supper tonight – 3.26.12 – the easiest broccoli soup you’ll ever make

Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables.

Micah doesn’t like broccoli.

At all.

Of course, this means that half the veggies on most produce party platters are out of the question, as are a handful of steakhouse side dishes.

But Micah doesn’t just avoid broccoli–he’ll pick it right out of already-cooked foods. If we eat at one of those cool Japanese hibachi places where they make choo choo trains out of the onions and crack eggs with a giant meat cleaver…well, a whole bunch of extra stir-fried broccoli mysteriously ends up on my plate. Which I don’t mind at all, since broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables.

(For a guy who will eat kimchi, pickled eggs, liver, pigs’ feet, and sea urchin, Micah is mighty particular about these little green trees.)

In fact, the only broccoli preparation Micah does like is broccoli soup. Broccoli cheese soup from a bread bowl makes sense to me, because it’s basically a ginormous grilled cheese sandwich with just enough broccoli thrown in for people to think it’s healthy. Which it’s not:

(Besides all those calories, this stuff'll knock out your sodium requirements for an entire day!)

I don’t eat at Panera very often, though I’ve been known to knock out one of these giant soup loaves in one sitting (and finish with dessert). But the broccoli soup we usually make at home is probably a better choice for everyday eating, and it really tastes like broccoli…because that’s basically all it is.

Less bread and cheese, more green!

First off, I still haven’t figured out why Micah loves this stuff so much but won’t eat broccoli, because this simple soup tastes very much like the veggies it’s made from. But love it he does, and during late winter when broccoli is in season, we can’t get enough. It’s warm and hearty, it’s super healthy, and it really is the easiest broccoli soup you’ll ever make. Don’t just take our word for it, either: we got this recipe from Gordon Ramsay, who I’m pretty sure knows what he’s talking about.

What’s in it:

  • 1 pound of chopped broccoli, fresh or frozen
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
  • optional toppings: goat cheese (or your favorite other cheese), walnuts, bacon bits, etc.

Step by step:

  • Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  • Add the broccoli and cover the pot. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until you can easily slide a knife right through one of those broccoli stems.
  • Use a slotted spoon to scoop your broccoli from the pot into your blender, but don’t dump out all that cooking water. Add cooking liquid to your blender o’ broccoli until the greenish water comes about halfway up the blender.
  • Blend! Start slowly, because the stuff in this fast-moving appliance was boiling just a few minutes ago, so if it splatters out and scalds your arm…well, that would suck.
  • Puree your soup until it’s a nice, even consistency, adding more cooking liquid to get it to the thickness you prefer. (I like mine a little thicker, Micah a little thinner.)
  • Season with salt (I use about 1/2 teaspoon) and pepper (I use about 1/4 teaspoon) and press the magic blender button one more time to mix it in.
  • At this point, your soup will be pretty darn delicious. Pour it into some bowls. Four normal-sized bowls if you’re eating it with sandwiches, two or three giant bowls for a big, hearty main course.
  • Drizzle a little olive oil over the top. Add other toppings if you like. (Ol’ Gordo puts goat cheese and walnuts at the bottom of his bowl before putting in the soup, but then you’ve gotta dig around to find your garnishes, so I like putting mine on top. :))

Not only is this soup ridiculously easy to make, but it really tastes delicious, even to a broccoli-phobe like Micah. And it’s perfect for nights when you really don’t feel like cooking, because all you really have to know how to do is boil water and operate a blender. (This is where the mac ‘n’ cheese and margaritas of your college years will come in handy, if you can remember how you made ’em.)

Give it a try! A soup this good will make it hard for you not to eat your veggies.

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supper tonight – 3.25.12 – kitchen disaster + leftovers mashup = not too bad after all…

If you’ve been keeping up, you know these two things about me by now:

  1. I’m a walking disaster in the kitchen.
  2. I absolutely must use up every last little bit of anything leftover in my refrigerator.

Yes, I’m a Depression-era housewife scavenging scraps in a minefield. Nothing gets thrown away if I can help it, but I just might die in an explosion one day.

So tonight, for supper, Micah and I had an interesting challenge. Our leftovers included a big hunk of ham steak and some Branston pickle from the ploughman’s platter I enjoyed at the Royal Peasant Friday night, about two cups of potlikker (the last of it, unfortunately), and four cornmeal pancakes from last Sunday’s breakfast.

Yeah, about those pancakes….they were a disaster.

Here’s what happened: while looking for cornmeal pancake recipes a few weeks ago, I came across two that I really wanted to make. One from Hillbilly Housewife, which turned out quite tasty, and one from Mark Bittman in the New York Times, which I didn’t get around to trying until last Sunday.

I didn’t have pine nuts and didn’t want vanilla (in case we might use leftovers in some savory dish later)–but otherwise, I followed Mr. Bittman’s directions exactly, because he’s kind of a smart dude who knows what he’s talking about.

Where did I go wrong? I have no idea. But somehow, when I got to the step where Mark Bittman’s batter was described as “spreadable but still thick,” my batter was a watery, soupy mess. I retraced my steps, double-checked my measurements…and I still can’t tell you what my mistake was.

Skeptically optimistic, I tried spooning a bit of my runny batter on the griddle. It spread super thin and bubbled like cornmeal lava. Undaunted, I let my test pancake cook for about five minutes (thinking that the longer side of Bittman’s “3-5 minutes” would probably serve me best).

After five minutes, I decided to check and see if my pancake’s underside was golden brown like Bittman said it would be. I can’t tell you whether it was golden brown or not, because my pancake turner did not succeed in flipping this little disc of cornmeal. Instead, I ended up with a strange, mushy polenta nugget, which tasted very good when I finally gave up on cooking it, but was most definitely not a pancake.

The batter is too thin, I decided….so I added more cornmeal.

Too much, apparently, because my end product tasted fine, but it was dense like a sope, not fluffy like a pancake. Copious amounts of maple syrup were needed, and the cakes were still pretty heavy and dry.

The recipe ended up making 12 pancakes, so the extras went into the fridge.

(There’s something so demoralizing about having leftovers of something you didn’t enjoy the first time around…especially if you’re neurotic about using those leftovers whether you like them or not….)

Fast forward to tonight, when I saw those stupid corn pucks taunting me from their little square plastic container in the fridge: Betcha can’t make us into a delicious dinner!

Armed with my potlikker (the elixir of the gods), and a few other quality ingredients, I set out to turn last week’s kitchen disaster into some kind of edible supper.

corn pucks + ham + Branston pickle + carrots + mushrooms + potlikker = not too shabby

What’s in it:

  • 4 leftover cornmeal pancakes
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • about 4.5 ounces of ham, cubed
  • 3 small carrots, sliced on the bias
  • 1/4 pound mushrooms
  • 2 cups potlikker (you could sub your favorite broth/stock)
  • 1 tablespoon Branston pickle (you could sub a different tangy relish or chutney)

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F. Wrap the pancakes in foil and throw the packet in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.
  • While the corn cakes warm, heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat.
  • Add the diced ham and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the carrots and mushrooms and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the potlikker and Branston pickle. Simmer and reduce until your potlikker broth is good and thick and syrupy.
  • Put two pancakes on each plate and top with the mixture from your skillet.

The verdict? Dodged another mine tonight. No explosions. It really wasnt bad at all. The sauce was sweet, salty, tangy, smoky; the mushrooms and ham, hearty and savory; the carrots, sweet and tender. It was almost enough to redeem those disastrous pancakes. 🙂

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Reblog: Breakfast Sausage, Spinach and Roasted Red Pepper Muffins

You guys all know how much I love muffins? Well, now I’m going to have to try making some of these!

coolcookstyle


Lately, I have been trying to get myself to eat breakfast more often. I actually love breakfast, but I regretfully have rarely made time to have it.

Breakfast muffins are a great thing to make. They are so easy to pull together. They look beautiful, and a nice big basket of them is always a hit for brunch. You can also make a batch the night before and toss one or two (three for me) in the oven to warm the following morning while you make coffee.

These muffins are a great way to use the pork breakfast sausage that I get from my CSA, but in all honesty, the recipe is fairly versatile. You can make them meatless, with broccoli, or any other vegetable that you like. You can use Parmesan or Asiago instead of Cheddar.

The tricks are to not over mix your batter, and to make sure…

View original post 519 more words

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muffins for Monday – 3.25.12 – nut & honey

Anyone remember this commercial?

Or this one:

Or this one:

Well, this morning, Micah asked me what kind of muffins I was going to make for the week. I’d been eyeing a jar of honey and a bag of pecans in the pantry and considered replying like a sane person with “honey pecan.” Then my mind flitted to the phrase “honey nut,” like in Honey Nut Cheerios. Even that would’ve been a reasonable response.

But in the end, my terrible sense of humor and love for bad puns overcame my better judgment, and I replied, “Nut ‘n’ honey.”

Groans ensued, and I immediately needed to find those old cereal commercials to see if they were as dumb as I remembered. They were. But back when I was a five/six/seven-year old kid watching them on TV for the first time, I remember laughing. Hysterically. In fact, I always wanted my mom to buy that cereal so I could have conversations like the ones in the commercials with my little brother, or my Mammaw, or whoever would give in and play along. (Have I mentioned that I was kind of a strange kid?)

I don’t think my mom ever bought Nut and Honey Crunch, though, mostly because she insisted on a pretty regular rotation of plain cereals: plain Corn Flakes, plain Rice Krispies, plain Cheerios, plain Chex. The sweetest cereals we ever ate were Kix and Life (though never Berry Berry Kix or Cinnamon Life–just the unflavored varieties).

Our friends probably hated spending the night with us. Where are the Lucky Charms? What about Cocoa Puffs? Can we at least have some sugar to dump on this cardboard??

My Mammaw, though in a perfect position to be a food role model, wouldn’t eat any of the cereals at our house without a healthy dose of added sucrose. (Which, given some of the other things she liked to eat, shouldn’t come as a surprise.)

Besides sleepovers at friends’ houses (friends with cool parents, that is), the only time we ever got to indulge in overly sweet breakfast monstrosities like these was at Christmas, when we would find an 8-pack of these wrapped under the tree:

Gee, whiz! Thanks, Mom! Er, I mean...thanks, Santa Claus!
(image from Amazon.com)

At the time, though of course I ate my mom’s boring cereal choices without complaint, I was convinced that her low-sugar rule was horribly unfair. Just like it wasn’t fair that all the other kids at school got to play on the Nintendo (we didn’t have one) and drink soda with dinner (you can imagine my mom’s thoughts about that one).

Now, I’m glad Mom made us eat unsweetened cereals and drink milk instead of soda, because as an adult I am absolutely unable to eat a bowl of Froot Loops for breakfast (ugh!), and I rarely crave a Coke. It’s a lot easier to make healthy choices when the unhealthy ones kind of gross you out. 🙂

(I do wish she’d caved on the Nintendo, though. My video game handicap is about the same as your average five-year-old’s, thanks to my lifelong lack of eye-thumb coordination.)

But I digress. Rewind to this morning’s conversation:

“What kind of muffins are you making today?” asks Micah.

“Nut ‘n’ honey!” I chirp.

Groan.

The name of this week’s muffins for Monday might echo the silliest 80’s commercial pun ever penned, but they did turn out nice:

A muffin so pretty, even our blooming camellias want a taste.

I can’t tell you how the taste of my nut ‘n’ honey muffins compares to Kellogg’s Nut & Honey…Crunch! because I’ve never tasted the stuff, but how ’bout you make the muffins on your own and compare for yourself?

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup honey

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F, and get a 12-cup muffin pan ready.
  • Mix all the dry ingredients (flour through pecans) in one bowl. Mix the wet ingredients (everything else) in another. Then combine.
  • Spoon into your muffin cups and bake for 12-15 minutes, then let cool.

The batter for these muffins is a little thicker than you might be used to if you’ve tried some of my other muffin recipes, because when I substituted honey for some of the brown sugar, I decided to leave out the milk (lest my batter become too runny). But the chopped pecans yield a nice crunch, and the honey flavor is perfect: light, a little floral, but not too sweet. Just like my mom would prefer.

What kind of cereal did you eat growing up?

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lazy brunch – 2.26.12 – buttermilk biscuits

When I was a kid, sleeping over at my Mammaw’s house on Friday nights meant an evening of the TGIF prime-time lineup (back when Jaleel White was Urkel on Family Matters, not a cool dude on Dancing with the Stars), followed by the early-morning aroma of biscuits baking in the oven.

This kind of biscuits:

image from Walmart.com

My little brother and I could easily split a whole can of these in a morning, slathered with Country Crock or split open and smooshed around some pan-fried sausage patties. I liked my biscuits a pale, goldish color, but Mammaw would always blaze them in her gas oven until they were as uniformly brown as a squadron of UPS delivery guys. Once Mammaw started letting me cook on my own, though, I would pop open the can all by myself and bake them to golden brown perfection.

I’d heard stories of people making biscuits from scratch. Like, mixing and kneading and stuff. Heck, I think I ‘d even read about the process in some historical fiction book or other. And of course I had experienced the euphoria of sinking my teeth into a crispy-crusted, flaky, fluffy homemade biscuit. Old people, other people’s grandmas, the ladies at the S&W Diner down the street or the Biscuit Barn here in Athens–they could craft these magical breakfast breads and all the fixins to go with them. But the only way I ever knew how to make biscuits was from one of these bright blue cans.

In fact, canned biscuits were the only kind I had ever made until about, oh, 2007. I was intimidated by real biscuits (and even a little scared to make ’em out of Bisquick, sure I’d figure out some way to ruin them).

One morning, back when we were still unmarried apartment dwellers, I woke up early on a weekend and romantically decided I was going to make Micah breakfast in bed. I found a biscuit recipe somewhere and set forth on my dough handling adventure.

Imagine a biscuit mating with a boulder and making little rock babies, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how this batch turned out. They were so tough and dry that Micah not-so-subtly suggested that some gravy sure would be good. (My gravy was stellar, by the way…but it still couldn’t save those poor, dry, overworked biscuits.)

A few more biscuit attempts failed just as miserably. Gravy reinforcements were called in again and again.

Then I found this recipe on Food.com, and my life was forever changed.

picture taken 2/26/12, before I started this blog and before I dug my decade-old real camera out of a box in the den

These biscuits didn’t need gravy, sausage, Country Crock, or even jam. Somehow, they were amazing all on their own: crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and dang near perfect.

What’s in it:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter (the original recipe calls for 6, but I only had half a stick last time I made them and they were still great!)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 teaspoon lemon juice allowed to sit at room temperature for 5 minutes)

Step-by-step (another sitcom from the Friday night TGIF lineup!):

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease with cooking spray.
  • Dump the flour, baking powder, and salt into your food processor and pulse a few times to mix. (Or, mix in a bowl.)
  • Cut the butter into small cubes. Add it to the dry ingredients and pulse some more until it’s incorporated. (Or, use a fork or your fingers to work the butter into your bowl of flour.) The mixture will start to look and act a little more like Nickelodeon’s floam, with bigger grains than the powdery flour and a tendency to stick to itself if you smoosh it between your fingers.
  • Add the buttermilk and process just until the dough starts to form a ball. (Or, add it to your bowl and mix until it’s incorporated.)
  • Dump the dough out on a floured surface. It will be really, really sticky! Don’t mix in a ton of extra flour (as was my misguided instinct)–just sprinkle a little more flour on top.
  • Lightly pat the dough down to about 3/4″ thick. The recipe says to press, fold, and repeat about five times, but I skip this step and my biscuits are still pretty darn good.
  • Use a biscuit cutter, round cookie cutter, or drinking glass to cut out circles of dough. Don’t twist your cutter when you pull up–this apparently makes your biscuits a weird shape or something.
  • Move these pretty little dough circles to your baking sheet. I like to put my biscuits far apart so that each biscuit has crispy edges, but you can put them closer if you like your sides fluffy.
  • Bake for about 12 minutes, or until they’re golden brown.

Enjoy with your favorite biscuit toppings: gravy, bacon and eggs, sausage, cheese, smoked salmon, leftover barbecue, plain old butter and jam. Or serve them with a Southern-style dinner of fried chicken, collards, and black-eyed peas. Or just eat ’em plain, because they’re that good.

I love my Mammaw, and memories of those weekend sleepovers with her still make me smile.

But I do hope that, when my future grandbabies spend the night with me, they’ll wake up to the early morning smell of these delicious homemade biscuits.

“Did you really eat biscuits from a can?” they’ll ask.

“Yep,” I’ll say as I pat my sticky biscuit mess onto the cutting board. I’ll cut my circles, slide them into the oven, dust the flour from my hands. And those kids will marvel as I relate tales of blue cardboard tubs bursting with a soft “pop!” and bulging with pre-made discs of dough.

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supper tonight – 3.19.12 – Caesar salad from scratch

Four days after the Ides of March probably isn’t the best time to eat Caesar salad.

Well, okay, Julius Caesar didn’t survive the Ides of March, but he also didn’t invent the Caesar salad–they say it was actually a dude named Caesar Cardini. But I like to think our Roman friend caught the soothsaying bug when he said “Let me have men about me that are fat,” because a salad like this definitely won’t give you “a lean and hungry look” like the backstabbing Cassius had.

Unless you look hungry ’cause you want more salty, gooey, delicious salad, of course.

Anyway, ever since we opened a tin of anchovies for salmoriglio during that fiasco of a date night, we’ve been thinking about how real, made-from-scratch Caesar dressing pretty much always includes these deliciously salty little fishies…and how we also had some leftover sourdough baguette from the party sandwiches that would make perfect croutons…and how some of Micah’s home-cured guanciale (hog jowl bacon) would be so good if we crisped it up and crumbled it on top….

(Damn. Now I’m kind of craving some more salad.)

This hankering actually set in sometime last week, but we had to wait for Thursday’s Athens Locally Grown pick-up to get our romaine lettuce, and then I kept forgetting that I needed to make some more mustard (which needs to sit in the fridge for a day before it’s ready to use). So, even though we’d been gazing longingly at the recipe with our sad puppy-dog eyes for almost a week, it was last night before we actually had everything we needed to craft the perfect Caesar salad:

(Can you tell I finally found my real camera? Canon Powershot A520, only 4 megapixels, but WAY better than my broken iPhone 3GS.)

We had a few mishaps along the way, like almost burning the croutons (you can see in the photo that they’re a tad on the brown side)…not to mention a few issues getting the mayonnaise base for the dressing to come together correctly (apparently, a common problem).

Side note: You might be thinking to yourself…but I thought Tanya hated mayonnaise? And I do. Passionately. With the heat of a thousand suns. But for whatever reason, I love Caesar salad. And you have to admit, once you get all the other flavors into that dressing, it really doesn’t taste like mayo at all.

Anyway, in the end, this salad tasted even more delicious than it looks, and we will definitely make it again.

What’s in it (the dressing):

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 anchovies, minced (the recipe called for 2, but we were feeling adventurous)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I used my own homemade–recipe below)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (but I bet apple cider vinegar would work well, too)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Mix together the garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar in a small bowl.
  • In a larger bowl, put your egg yolk and a tiny bit of olive oil. Whisk quickly (or use an electric handheld or stand mixer). As the egg and oil mixture starts to thicken, continue to slowly drizzle in the olive oil while you keep whisking. Add too much at once, and this stuff will never fluff up. We learned this the hard way.
  • Once the olive oil is completely incorporated, blend in the garlic and anchovy mixture, then the Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.
  • The recipe says this makes 2 cups, but for us it only ended up being a little more than one. Not sure why, but that just means we’ll need to make more soon!

Now that you’ve got some of this amazing dressing, here’s how we made the rest of the salad.

What’s in it (the whole shebang):

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup of that delicious Caesar dressing we just made
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3 big slices of bacon, cooked crispy, then crumbled
  • croutons (super easy! – cube some bread / toss with melted butter, salt, pepper, and minced garlic / bake on a sheet pan at 400°F until golden brown and crunchy)

Step-by-step:

  • Toss your lettuce and dressing together in a big bowl.
  • Split the dressed salad between two big plates for a meal (topped with protein of your choice, if you like!) or four small ones (as a side or starter).
  • Divide the cheese and crumbled bacon between your salads. Evenly, unless you’re looking for a fight. 🙂
  • Add croutons.
  • Enjoy!

And yes, you read correctly that the mustard I used in our Caesar dressing was homemade. I had no idea mustard was so easy to make until Micah and I won a copy of Vanessa Barrington’s awesome book from a drawing over at Punk Domestics:

image from indiebound.com

The cool thing about this book is that it includes recipes for all sorts of stuff I’d never thought to make from scratch: ketchup, tortillas, sauerkraut, kimchi, and the aforementioned mustard–and then it gives you different recipes for using all your delicious homemade fixins.

We haven’t attempted the ketchup yet. Micah did make the kimchi, subbing collard greens for the cabbage (pretty good). But the corn tortillas are yummy, the carrot and cabbage sauerkraut will rock your socks off, and the mustard…well, this is my fourth or fifth batch, if that tells you anything.

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 cup whole mustard seeds (mix of brown and yellow)
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) port wine
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Step-by-step:

  • Mix everything together in a glass or plastic bowl.
  • Cover and store overnight in the refrigerator. (This lets your mustard seeds soften.)
  • The next day, put your mustard in a blender or food processor and start blending. Your liquid-y, grainy mixture will magically thicken and smooth out to a lovely, spreadable consistency.
  • Taste it. It’ll be pretty spicy! If it’s too spicy, you can blend in a little bit of water and/or a little more honey.
This is how I made my most recent batch, but basically, you just need 1/2 cup of mustard seeds, about 3/4 cup of liquid, and whatever other flavorings you want to add. I’ve used different boozes (port, sherry, madeira, cognac, bourbon), different vinegars (cider, balsalmic, rice wine, sherry), different sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, molasses)–and it has always turned out amazing.

DIY Delicious is one of my very favorite cookbooks, hands-down. And not just because it taught me how to make mustard like this:

Nice and brown and grainy and spicy, perfect with a beer-braised bratwurst--or in that delicious Caesar dressing.

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muffins for Monday – 3.18.12 – pb&j

Today’s muffin experiment: capturing the magic of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich–but in a muffin!

(No, my green cutting board isn't the most pristine background--but I sure do like the color.)

 

I love peanut butter. Probably more than I should. I can eat it by the spoonful straight from the jar, and often do. I love peanut butter sandwiches, peanut butter cookies…even peanut butter and bacon burgers, which I first got the guts to try a few years ago at Clocked here in Athens. (It sounds weird, I know, but they’re amazing!)

I could eat peanut butter every day, maybe at every meal, and be perfectly happy…

…so why on earth have I never thought to make peanut butter muffins?

Well, now I have, and let me tell you, these things are delicious, and despite the whole wheat and oats, they don’t taste healthy at all. They’re almost like dessert. (Actually, I did eat one for dessert tonight.)

What’s in it:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup of your favorite jam or jelly

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  • Prepare 12 muffin cups. (You might want to make a point to use paper liners or a little extra cooking spray/butter for these because they’re a tad stickier than my normal recipe.)
  • Mix the oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar in one bowl.
  • In another bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the peanut butter, then the yogurt, then the milk.
  • Combine the wet and dry ingredients, then divide the batter into your 12 muffin cups.
  • Top each muffin with a spoonful of jelly. Then, use a toothpick to swirl your jelly around in the batter.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes.
  • Let the muffins cool (at least a little), and then enjoy (preferably with a tall glass of milk).

About the jelly: I didn’t swirl mine enough, and it kinda sunk from the tops of my muffins down to the bottoms, making for some pretty gooey, messy undersides. They were still delicious, but the jelly wasn’t really dispersed throughout the muffin like I wanted it to be, and my fingers did get a little sticky.

Again, about the jelly: I used FROG jam. It isn’t made of frogs, I promise!–just fig, raspberry, orange, and ginger. These would be delicious with regular old grape or strawberry, though, or any other jam or jelly.

I’m really looking forward to breakfast this week. 🙂

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